White skies

Photo by © Beatrice Staib

Hans-Christian Schink, photographer, born in Erfurt, Germany, in 1961. Currently he presents the series Tōhoku at the Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung in Berlin. The series was made in the Japanese region of the same name one year after the disastrous tsunami and creates a weird mix of feelings that go from fascination to the terrible certainty of our existence’s fragility. That strange feeling is due to the aesthetic of the photographs which seems a composition. Of course, every photograph is a composition from the moment the photographer just focuses in a part of reality, but in Schink’s photography, and especially in the Tōhoku series, the natural disaster becomes a dramatic chiaroscuro when we love an image that in fact is portraying the effects of a tragedy. Imagination is an essential element in Schink’s works and it arrived to a maximum expression in the series Antarctica, an magnificent example of dream born in reality, not as an independent or isolated fact in our mind but as a part of it, as something tangible is we are open enough.

Your current exhibition is titled Tōhoku, name of a Japanese region. Why did you decide to create this series?

I was awarded a three-month residency in Kyoto from January to April 2012. The earthquake and Tsunami disaster happened on March 11, 2011, so I knew that this would be a big issue for Japanese people during the time of my stay. In fact I was thinking about a possible project dealing with this topic before I went to Kyoto. Though I wasn't sure if it would be appropriate and of course I'm not a photojournalist. But everyone in Japan I talked to encouraged me to do this. So after just a few weeks in Kyoto I decided to stop taking pictures there and go to the Tōhoku area instead. The name Tōhoku just means The Northeast in Japanese but has become a synonym for the region destroyed by the earthquake and Tsunami.

The contrast of culture and nature as almost opposite concepts is a very interesting reflexion one can get from your work. Nature can be also self-destructive in many ways. Our civilization is not just one of them?

Nature is never self-destructing. It just changes. That's the difference.

Why do you think we’ve lost our link with nature?

It's the Adam and Eve story, the story of lost paradise. If you're able to reflect a situation, you're not part of it anymore. No way back.

Do you think we’ll become able one day to think long-term? Can we stop of being egoists or that is part of our instinct?

I hope we would but I still doubt it.

In this series the white colour is very intense, even the skies are always deeply white. It seems you want to concentrate our attention on some elements especially. What was your intention?

I always try to create an image that derives its intensity not from a dramatic light or a spectacular viewpoint but from the subject itself. To me the white skies are crucial for generating this non-dramatic atmosphere.

Your previous series was Antarctica in which one still can see the purity of nature. What inspires you from the absence of people?

In a way it makes an image timeless. The Antarctica images in particular deal with the conception of an ideal picture that makes you forget even about the presence of the photographer—in a way that reminds you it's not possible.

Why did you choose photography to express your ideas instead of documentary cinema, for example, which gives an easier cinematic dimension?

I love cinema but the good thing about photography is this moment in time captured in a single image.

I think your latest series is 1h in which the use of long exposures gives a phantasmagorical atmosphere, like the photography of the nineteenth century. Nostalgia?

No, it's about the very essence of photography. The connection to nineteenth-century travel photography is that those pictures provided images of places that most people of that period would never have been able to see with their own eyes—many people didn’t have any clear idea of these places at all. Today, the works from my 1h series are images of a phenomenon that could never actually be perceived by the naked human eye.

All the photographs featured in 1h provide in their title details of the date, exposure time and coordinates where the image was taken, but in a scientific way without telling the name of the place. What’s behind this mystery?

If I would tell the name of the place, everybody would have his own images of this place in mind. But it's not about a specific place at all. It's about picturing time and light and having places all over the world as a background for these images. On the other hand, giving the coordinates is the most precisely way to identify a place but almost nobody knows where it is. And I like the idea that by checking the coordinates with Google Earth you'll see the exact place where the photo was taken, like following the rays of the sun that exposed the film in my camera.

We live a kind of explosion of photography. Everyone is making photos all the time and photographic edition tools are easily available. In fact, many artists develop their career in the digitally re-worked photography. What’s a true photographer in the current times?

Someone who thinks of a photograph not as a reproduction but as an image—in the sense of imagination.

We always ask the artists to tell us a dream. In your case we would love you to give it a title with the coordinates in where you dreamed it.

Not for the first time, but here with good reason: picturing the absolute nothingness (N 20°52.301’ E 006°07.151’).

Could you guess where it is?

Hans-Christian Schink | Tōhoku . Exhibition at the Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung in Berlin.

A selection of the Tōhoku series here

An interview by Juan Carlos Romero
Hans-Christian Schink website www.hc-schink.de
Photo by © Beatrice Staib
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